USDA Census of Agriculture: Reading between the lines

103After a very long wait the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture data are starting to roll out. While the meatiest (pun intended) reports are not expected until May the preliminary data are attracting a lot of attention. And, regarding women farmers, the news is…mixed.

In 2007 the number of U.S. farms with women as principal operators was 14%. In 2012 that number remains at 14%. Under ideal circumstances, that might be viewed as a disappointment. Except that during this same time frame our country has struggled through a global economic downturn that has set many industries back at least a decade. So, viewed in that light, holding our ground might not be such bad news.

 The early reports also indicate the winners and losers in the ag lottery are not distributed evenly around the country. There are some regions (like New England) where the numbers of farmers has continued to increase and where the number of women farmers also increased. Other states sustained double digit losses in both of those counts. What we can say though is in states where agriculture is growing, the presence of women farmers is growing.  


What the story looks like right now…

  • Young women are continuing to enter the field of agriculture.
  • Our farms are showing signs of improved profitability but we still have a very long way to go.
  • Investments in new/beginning farmer training are paying off.
  • A tremendous amount of prime ag land is in the hands of women who will be responsible for making transfer decisions in the next decade.
  • States that embrace agriculture as an economic development strategy are reaping returns on that investment.

The picture is still quite fuzzy but stay tuned…as the data continues to sort itself out our understanding of the status of women farmers will become more clear. I am betting on a happy ending.

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Selling for Success: Marketing to Local Wholesale Markets

Are you a new or beginning farmer interested in selling to independent grocery stores and/or restaurants?

Join Sona Desai of the Intervale Food Hub and Tim Taylor of Crossroad Farm at a workshop to learn if selling to these markets is right for you.

The workshop, geared to new and beginning farmers will be held Monday, Feb. 24 from 10 to noon at the Vital Communities offices in White River Junction.

The workshop will cover the personal, production, financial, and marketing skills needed to sell to local wholesale markets, as well as how to begin and improve sales.

Sona will speak as a buyer for the Intervale Food Hub and a market development specialist about what skills farmers need to have to be successful selling to these markets. Tim will speak as an established farmer in the state about how he is successful selling to multiple local wholesale markets.

Cost: The workshop is free and light refreshments will be provided.

RSVP: Please RSVP to Maggie at the Intervale Center at or (802) 660-0440 ext 116.

This workshop is supported by a grant to the Vermont New Farmer Network from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, Grant # 2011-49400-30500. To find more resources and programs for beginning farmers and ranchers please visit, a component of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.”

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Personal Resiliency: The Antidote to Stress

I am stressed out right now. It seems to happen every January as the official kick-off to the “conference season,” the time when most farmers have a lull in their schedules and therefore a slew of farmer meetings, classes, and conferences are organized, facilitated, and/or schlepped to and fro with Extension exhibits and program resources in tow. And it lasts until just about the time when the growing season starts.

messy office

My office, pre-NOFA VT conference! Hopefully, it will be tidy again by April.

As a farmer, you may experience this type of stress too, especially at the start of the growing season when the daily to-do list items seem to greatly outnumber the hours in a day.

The experts define these types of stresses largely as “acute” or short-lived; they say acute stress often can actually be beneficial and create motivation. (I admit, I do feel extremely productive so far in 2014!) This is largely attributed to the “fight or flight” response from our bodies, i.e. the release of hormones like adrenaline and norepinephrine that cause us to energize and focus. So, in these situations, the assumption is when the situation is resolved, the stress diminishes and life goes merrily along.

Prolonged or chronic stress is a bit of a different story. That’s the type of stress that just hangs on, and potentially can cause negative health effects (including immune system suppression, increased blood pressure, and can even contribute to obesity, among other effects).

The antidote to stress? Experts suggest that personal resiliency is the key. “Resiliency” is a word we hear a lot now, especially given recent weather extremes, but it is usually applied to production practices like soil management and crop rotations. Personal resiliency is the ability to bounce back from stressful situations. Some of us are naturally more resilient than others, and have an easier time of managing stress. For the rest of us, building and maintaining resiliency is an on-going process. A North Dakota team created a postcard I particularly like that uses a handy acronym “FACTS” to help remind us of ways to cope with stress:

  • Foster hope.
  • Act with purpose.
  • Connect with others.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Search for meaning.

I’ll keep these FACTS in mind over the next several weeks. The upside of the conference season, after all, is connecting with others…and I always do walk away inspired by all the creativity and passion shared by farmers and educators alike!



Posted in Culture and Society, General info, Quality of life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment